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The Bulldogs will be racing in Eugene after placing first at the District 2 meet

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - The Culver boys cross country team poses with the school's first-ever district championship in the sport. From left to right: Thadius Brown, head coach Carter Spear, Hudson Burgi, Evan Powell, Troy Potampa, Julian Sanabria, Aiden Guest, Debren Sanabria.After winning the 2A/1A Special District 2 title last week, the Culver boys cross country team is ready to take their show on the road one more time. The Bulldogs earned a spot in the OSAA 2A/1A Cross Country Championships this Saturday, Nov. 6, at Lane Community College in Eugene.

"This is the first time that we've gotten a district champion title in our school's history," said Culver senior Evan Powell. "The fact that we did that is incredible. I really do think that the mindset gave us that win."

Powell takes pride in the hard work that helped him and his teammates bring the district trophy back to the halls of Culver High School.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - The Culver boys cross country team earned its place in the school's history books by winning the district title."It means a lot to me," said Powell. "I've been running cross country since middle school, and the only race that I've ever actually won was my very first race in sixth grade. So the fact that we actually, as a team, won districts for my final year is incredible to me. It's hard to explain. It's really amazing."

Throughout the season, the boys team has looked like it would get at least one runner into the state meet. Culver senior Evan Powell was a consistent force throughout the year, and he was always a good bet to finish in the top five at districts.

Sure enough, Powell did take fifth last week in Lebanon thanks to a new personal-record time of 18 minutes and 33.7 seconds. After struggling throughout his stellar career to break the 19-minute mark, Powell has now done it three times in the past four races. Last Thursday, he beat his old PR by more than 20 seconds.

Even if Powell would have slipped out of the top five, however, it would not have made much difference for Culver. The rest of the boys team has been showing steady improvement throughout the season, with five other runners — senior Troy Potampa, junior Debren Sanabria, and sophomores Thadius Brown, Hudson Burgi and Aiden Guest — have posted admirable times.

Potampa did not run in the district meet, but the Bulldogs still logged the highest team score at the event. Culver scored 34 points to finish well ahead of Western Christian (55 points) and Jefferson (88).

The district-winning effort was helped along by four of Culver's top five finishers setting new personal records. Along with Powell, new bests were set by Burgi, Brown and Sanabria, while Guest was only a single second away from breaking his top mark. Burgi finished in eighth place with a time of 18:53.6, while Guest and Sanabria finished back-to-back at 19:05.8 and 19:12.1 to take 10th and 11th place, respectively. Brown rounded out the scoring by running the course in 19:40.2 to earn 16th place out the 71 runners in the event. Though he did not factor into the team score, Culver freshman Julian Sanabria joined some of his teammates in running a personal best at the district meet in Lebanon. The younger Sanabria finished in 27:27.2, nearly three minutes faster than the time he posted in the season-opening race in Tillamook.

"When you come to practice every day, the mindset you have contributes a lot to (success)," said Powell of the team's high-level performance. "Debren is a wrestler, and that's what they do. They come with the mindset that they're champions, and they're going to win it every single time."

Sanabria, whose brother Julian is also on the team, noted that even though cross country runners are timed individually, they still work as a team.

"Running cross country is a big team sport," Sanabria said. "It kind of brings it with wrestling."

Brown, who also played on the Culver varsity football team this season, echoed that sentiment.

"We try to carry each other by keeping morale up," said Brown. "If one of our teammates is slowing down, trying to keep them going with us. Pulling them to finish line with us, whether they're about to drop dead or whether they just need to let it out and start running again.

"It's definitely about being a group and trying to keep everyone up," Brown continued. "Once you get to that lone mindset, you get to yourself sometimes. I know I get to myself, second-guess myself, doubt myself. But when I'm right up there with my team, it's a lot easier to stay headstrong and push to stay right up there with them, because I can count on them to push me to do better."

Having so many talented runners has been a boon for Culver head coach Carter Spear.

"That's the great thing about having a deeper team," said Spear, noting that he pulled Brown out of football practice so he could help the team train during Potampa's absence. "If anyone is sick, or if anyone has to be gone, we pick each other up. A big part of our motivation — talking about a team mentality — was, 'Troy wasn't able to run. He's one of the fastest on the team. We've got to get him to state. We're running for Troy today.'"

"That's one thing I tried to help them see this week, too," added Spear. "You're not just running for yourself. You're also running for someone who has worked hard for four years to go to real state in Eugene and have a great experience."

Last season, the qualified for the de facto state meet in Lebanon and took sixth. However, the race was not sanctioned by the OSAA and thus would not have culminated in a true state championship even if the team had placed first.

"It was still a state experience," said Spear. "Just not the same. We still had it, but technically, it wasn't the real thing."

Now, the real thing is here in front of the Bulldogs.

As it stands, Culver is currently projected to finish eighth in the 2A/1A OSAA Cross Country State Championships with a team score of 245. Last year's state champion, Bandon, is penciled in to win the event with 63 points, while Union and Knappa are slated for silver and bronze thanks to projected team scores of 73 and 152 points.

For Potampa, he has a mantra in mind as he prepares for his final race as a Culver Bulldog.

"Last one, fast one," said the senior. "Run as hard as you can. Especially for Evan and I, since we're the seniors of the group. It's our last race ever."

Powell, on the other hand, has a slightly more specific goal in mind.

"For myself, I want to try to shave off another 30 seconds and break that '17' barrier," he said, indicating that he wants to finish in under 18 minutes. "Each year, I've tried to break a barrier. A couple years back, it was 20 minutes. Then it was 19 minutes, and I broke it. Then it was 18 minutes, and I finally got it this year."

"In the last race of my high school running career," Powell added, "I want to break that 17 barrier for that last hurrah."

The 2021 OSAA 2A/1A Cross Country State Championship meet will be held in Eugene this Saturday. The 2A/1A boys 5K race is scheduled to begin at 10:35 a.m. at Lane Community College. Tickets for the event are available online via the OSAA website at www.osaa.org.


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